Podcast: Restaurants step up to the Food Waste Challenge

“Caterers are just throwing away money!”

In the Dutch catering industry, 51 thousand tons of food is thrown away every year: that’s 83 million meals! Rabobank is working with a range of parties to fight the waste. Jos Klerx of Rabobank and Anna de Visser of Hotelschool The Hague explain.

Listen to this story as a podcast (in Dutch), or read on for the English interview.

Food waste is a serious problem. Worldwide, a third of all the food we produce goes to waste. It’s an amount that will challenge our ability to feed the world’s fast-growing population come 2050. Moreover, wasted food accounts for a whopping 6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, almost as much as large economies like the United States and China. Wasted food has an even bigger carbon footprint than the transport sector.

Jos Klerx, Rabobank’s Sector Specialist for the Restaurant and Leisure Industry, is alarmed at the level of food waste in Dutch restaurants. “Even if you put aside the moral and environmental side of the issue, caterers are just throwing away money!”

Changing routines

Anna de Visser-Amundson, lecturer at Hotelschool The Hague, can see how food waste becomes part of the routine in catering businesses. “It’s a very competitive market, where customer experience is priority number one. Chefs want to offer a lot of choice and generous helpings, but over half of the food they prepare ultimately ends up in the bin.”

There’s no question that reducing waste is a win-win for the planet and the catering business, but looking at the figures is a real eye-opener. “Every euro invested in reducing waste saves you six euros in hard cash!” Klerx exclaims. “Now that really motivates our catering clients.” De Visser adds, “And every kilo of waste avoided saves two kilos of carbon emissions.”

“Over half of the food chefs prepare ultimately ends up in the bin.”

- Anna de Visser, Hotelschool The Hague

Simple measures

To significantly reduce waste, caterers don’t have to totally change their way of working. There are simple measures that make quite a difference, says Klerx. “Cutting down on the number of items on the menu, smaller helpings, offering side dishes as an option rather than by default – these are all measures you can start with today.” De Visser agrees: “Our research on nudging shows that staff is eager to please the boss. Merely hanging up signs in the kitchen saying ‘Our chef is committed to minimizing waste. Are you with us?’ reduced waste by 25 percent.”

So how do Rabobank and its partners intend to build momentum in the fight against food waste? “Awareness is a first necessity,” Klerx says. “We need to make catering businesses realize why they have a problem and what the impact on their profit margin is.” De Visser sees cooperation as key. “There are start-ups who are commercializing food waste flows, but their efforts are too small-scale and fragmented.”

“Every euro invested in reducing waste saves six euros in hard cash”

- Jos Klerx, Rabobank

Loss and Waste Hub

Rabobank, which serves half the catering businesses in the Netherlands, is willing and able to make a difference in this sector, Klerx says. “We’ve set up a Food Loss and Waste Hub in Veghel with various partners in and outside the catering industry. One is our client De Verspillingsfabriek (The Waste Factory), also based in Veghel, which turns food waste flows into useable products like soups and sauces. Another is cyber startup Waste Watchers, which uses data to monitor and predict food supply and demand.”

Hotelschool The Hague, meanwhile, has been actively combating food waste since 2017. De Visser explains, “We teach our students to avoid waste by being creative with waste flows. And we’re doing research on ‘nudging’ – subtly influencing behavior of catering staff. After all, 60 percent of food waste in kitchens is avoidable. This way, we’ve already saved 40 tons of food, and raised awareness in the businesses we work with.”

Chef Estée Strooker is an ambassador for the Food Waste Challenge.

The Food Waste Challenge

Recently, Rabobank, Hotelschool The Hague and other partners, such as catering industry association Horecava and hospitality colleges in Leeuwarden and Leiden, have launched a Food Waste Challenge for the catering industry. Three hundred restaurants, from haute cuisine to food courts in amusement parks, are expected to sign on to the Challenge where they will be given tools and support to measure and cut their waste. “We want to give businesses tools to take the first steps,” De Visser explains. “Cyber start-up Waste Watchers provides software, and students come by with big scales and weigh the waste before, during and after the program.”

“We want to give businesses tools to take the first steps”

- Anna de Visser, Hotelschool The Hague

The challenge will be a success, both feel, if participants cut their waste by 20 to 25 percent. “A reduction like that at 300 restaurants is a good start,” says Klerx. “From there, we can take this group beyond the quick wins to further savings, and hopefully get a lot more businesses on board in time. There are 15 to 16 thousand catering businesses in the Netherlands, after all.” De Visser adds, “Longer term, the participating students will add momentum, as they take what they’ve learned with them in their future careers.“

Calling all restaurants!

The program kicks off on August 29, 2019. Restaurants and catering companies can sign up to join the Challenge before September 27. Results will be presented to some 70,000 catering professionals at the annual Horecava fair in January. Do you work in the catering industry? Register today!